Mike Mason says in Practicing the Presence of People, “Over the centuries many spiritual books have been written on love, but little has been written on friendship. The reason, I believe, is that church people generally know little about it. Compared to such great concerns as sound doctrine, evangelism, prayer, worship, and ministry, friendship does not seem so important. But the truth is that friendship is the foundation for all the rest. Without it the church will never accomplish her mission on earth.”
Pursuing friendship with each other in the church embodies the kingdom vision. As a church we are to model now the kind of relationships that will characterize the New Creation. If we can’t live out the values of the Sermon on the Mount with each other, I’m not sure what message we have to offer. But how do you pursue friendship? What are the key components of a close relationship?
I see six “C’s” that are crucial for having relationships that are close:
This is the most important one. It is faith in the other person, trust in their character, and an absence of accusation. If you secretly hold an opinion that I am a bad person or have dark motives, that’s going to put a damper on our relationship. Conversely, if you believe in me and trust that my intentions are good, even though you acknowledge that I may have flaws (and even sinful attitudes at times), our relationship can flourish. Confidence is about being on one another’s “side.”
Commitment is loyalty and constancy toward the other person. It’s standing with them through the thick and the thin. It’s not about “hanging tight” in the good times, when things are going well, when there are no misunderstandings and problems. It’s about “hanging tight” in the bad times, when things aren’t going well, when you feel injured or offended. Commitment is the bond that holds two people together when everything else won’t. It’s making the vow of friendship override negative emotions and circumstances. It’s sticking close like glue. If I know you’ll be there tomorrow, then I’ll be free enough to be the real me, and that kind of vulnerability creates closeness.
This is openness and honesty with the other person. Disclosure, as mentioned above, is the stuff intimacy is made of. If you let me into the secret chamber of your heart, and show me the precious jewels of your life, how can I not feel close to you? If you have nothing to hide, no secret agenda, no manipulative maneuvering, then I know I am safe with you and will respond in kind. On the other hand, if you play your cards close to the vest, keep your true motives hidden, lie or deceive me, then the chance that we’re going to be close is nil. Most people are not into allowing others into their holy of holies when they are kept in the outer court of the Gentiles.
Love demands we change. We must be willing to adapt to others and grow as a loving person. As we encounter the contours of each other’s personality we must allow ourselves to be shaped by those contours. If I know you hate being teased, even though I love teasing, I will have to change if I want to retain your love. If something is important to you, even though it isn’t naturally important to me, I must make it important to me if I want to be close to you. Additionally, if our relationship is to develop, I will have to be on the path of maturity. I will need to progress in kindness, consideration, and selflessness.
We cherish people by actually doing things that contribute to their welfare. Acts of blessing and meeting needs and desires demonstrates our care. Your care for me means I am safe with you. You want my good. This will cause me to see you as a friend and someone I can draw near to. If you are a source of blessing and welfare I will naturally be attracted to you. If you are a source of pain and loss, however, I will naturally be repelled.
I can’t be close to you if I don’t know you. Knowing and valuing the likes, dislikes, joys, and sorrows of another is fundamental to friendship. Friends rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. They familiarize themselves with their friend’s interests and learn to enjoy and appreciate those interests too. How can you like me if you don’t “like” what I like? How can you value me, if you don’t value what I value? This doesn’t mean if I am to be your friend I must savor mint chocolate chip ice cream because you do. But I must at least appreciate mint chocolate chip ice cream and see it as a source of joy for you, and in this way “like” it. Also, if you have another friend whom you love, I can’t hate them and still be your friend. I may not enjoy being around them or I may see something in them that is distasteful, but because they are your friend I must honor, respect, and do them no harm. And I should try to appreciate them as you do.
Generally, the more that these six “C’s” are present in a relationship the closer that relationship will be. And if it’s true that friendship is the foundation for the mission of the church, then developing these six “C’s” should be our priority.